Helen Frankenthaler (Photo: Getty Images)

In 1953 Helen Frankenthaler, who died this week at age 83, received a visit from Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, two artists from Washington who were stuck in an Abstract Expressionist rut. In her studio they saw “Mountains and Sea,” of the year before, a characteristically abstract work painted by pouring pigment onto a canvas laid on the floor.

The poured-paint technique had been pioneered by Jackson Pollock a few years earlier, but in this work the 24-year-old Frankenthaler made it her own. In place of the older artist’s looping and whipping lines of gray, black and tan, her imagery consisted of spreading pools and washes of luxuriant pinks, blues and greens nudged here and there with a sponge. The painting was a revelation to the two men—a “bridge between Pollock and what was possible,” Louis later said. Her novel technique, combined with a chromatic freedom and mastery unprecedented in recent American art, helped launch them, and others, on their own paths of color abstraction, thus ultimately changing the course of American art.


Eric Gibson
Wall Street Journal